We are naturally creatures of habit. Our good and bad habits set the tone for our days, weeks, years, and even our entire lives. Good habits, such as eating healthy, working out, feeling motivated at work, and striving for happiness in our relationships, create beneficial experiences for us. Bad habits, however, can undermine the positive experiences or changes we want for our lives. If you read one book about habits, make it The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. These same habits have the ability to affect our writing. So, how can you incorporate good writing habits? I have 10 tried and true ways to create and stick to a writing routine.
10 Ways to Set a Writing Routine You’ll Want to Stick With
Decide if you are a morning person or night owl. If you naturally wake up early without an alarm and consider the morning hours your most productive, you are a morning person. Night owls tend to sleep later and feel their most productive hours are afternoon hours and into the evening. There is no right or wrong to being either one, but it’s important to know your natural rhythm so you can maximize your creative time for writing.
Take inventory of your responsibilities. Write down your entire schedule for the next month. Block out your work hours, cleaning schedule, family responsibilities, social events, grocery shopping and errands on one calendar. When you create this full-month view, use time blocking to dedicate an assigned time to each day’s tasks. (This is a great article on the importance of and how to time block your schedule.)
Add your writing time. Once you have a full view of your daily responsibilities, start to look for spaces in your day that you can incorporate your writing time. If you’re a morning person, maybe schedule yourself to get up one hour earlier each morning. So, if you typically wake up at 6 a.m., set an alarm for 5 a.m. and use the quiet time to drink your coffee and hammer out a few hundred words. If you take an hour-long lunch break each day, spend 15 minutes of those devoted to eating and then use the other 45 minutes of focused time on writing. Do you have to wait in car line to pick up your kids from school each day? Take your laptop and write while you’re parked and waiting for dismissal. If you typically turn on the TV and sit down to watch your favorite shows for a few hours each night before bed, try recording your shows to watch later and use the time to write instead.
Don’t wait for the perfect time to write. Here’s the deal, there is never going to be an ideal time to sit down and write a book. Rachel Hollis regularly talks about how she wrote her book Girl, Wash Your Face in the early morning hours before anyone else in her family was up, in airports and on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. I make this point to show you that you don’t need a dedicated writing space or the perfect timing to write a book. Instead, you need to force yourself to write anywhere and everywhere you get a spare moment to put words on paper, even if that means carting around a good old-fashioned notebook and pen to scribble sentences here and there at a red light. The more you make time to write, the more time you will find to incorporate writing into your life.
Get your mind right. Our thoughts run all day, everyday and the wrong thoughts can lead to an ineffective writing time. So, when you sit down to write, before you type a single word, use a meditation app like Calm, Simple Habit, or Headspace to get rid of all the garbage floating around in your head. Then, you’ll have the necessary space in your mind, so creative thoughts can push through and you can actually write instead of stare at a blank screen thinking about your grocery list or the argument you had with your significant other. If you’re not into meditation, pull out a notebook and do a 5 minute free write. This activity will also allow you to clear any thoughts that are floating in your head because you’ll write them down and then be able to put the notebook away until later.
Write when you are supposed to write. Writing time is not for book research or emails or posting to social media. I think that’s where writers get tripped up a lot, myself included. Sometimes I confuse writing time with the business behind writing. I have learned that I need to separate the two camps. When it’s time to write, I’m not working on anything that doesn’t include putting words on paper.
Put your phone away. The constant buzz of text messages, phone calls, social media and email notifications can suck up an entire hour of writing time if we don’t put our phones away. It may feel awkward at first to completely ignore your phone the entire time you’ve blocked out for writing, so start small. Put your phone on “Do not disturb” or “Airplane” mode when you write. The next time, turn on one of those features and leave your phone across the room. Work yourself up to leaving your phone in another room. Also, if you use iMessages on your computer, make sure to deactivate them while you write. It’s pointless to ignore your phone if you still see messages pop up on your screen while you’re writing.
Respect your time and others will too. Once you schedule writing time into your days, you have to respect that time if you want others to respect the time as well. Your writing time should be as necessary as taking a shower, sleeping, or eating. If you constantly let others interrupt your writing time, they won’t adjust to the boundary of your writing time. If there are too many distractions at home, move your writing time to a coffee shop. Emily Ley wrote her first two books at Starbucks after her kids went to bed. If she can do it, so can you.
Show up when you don’t feel like it. After a bad day, it can be hard to find the motivation to sit down and write; and even if you do, what you write might be utter crap the next time you read it. But, it’s more important to stick to your writing schedule than it is to write something profound every time. The whole point of revising and editing is so we can delete the crap we wrote and replace it with better writing, but if you don’t write you’ll have nothing to edit. So, show up even when you’re sick, when you’re tired, or when you’ve had a bad day. Show up for your current self and show up for your future self—the published author.
Stay ahead of your calendar. The one time you decide to put off updating your calendar for the upcoming month is the day your writing routine may fall to the side until you decide to resurrect it. At that point, weeks or months may have gone by and you’ll be that much farther behind your writing goal. When you stay a month ahead on your calendar, you’ll always know what you’re responsible for and you’ll be able to stay on top of your writing.